OPINION

Valentine's Day 2006

February 12, 2009
smallsquirrel

I knew it wasn't going to be easy. In fact, I was terrified in a way that I had never felt before. I was all dressed up in my brand new salwaar suit, hair neatly pulled back into a clip, with barely a shred of makeup on my face. My fiance was recounting the plot of some Bollywood film he'd seen years ago just so he could keep himself from thinking. I was staring out the window looking at the shops with my thoughts flying past and then coming to a dead halt. This could be the beginning of my new life, or it could be a colossal disaster.

We were in a taxi on the way to his parents' home. We were hoping to get their blessings for our marriage. A firang and the good baby son of every-day, working, middle-class Kannadigas. Who would have thought? Well, certainly not his parents when he told them less than a month before my arrival. They bargained, they argued, they ignored. They persuaded, they cried, they stonewalled. But the day had arrived. I was real, and I was coming for tea at 3 PM sharp.

Everyone knew it wasn't really a friendly kind of visit. There would be no friendly banter, no cheerful "getting to know you" banter. It was an audition. It was a chess game. Both sides felt they had a lot to lose, and no one knew exactly what to expect.

The taxi arrived at the compound gate. I wiped the sweat from my upper lip, got out of the car and adjusted my dupatta. I saw heads pop out from terraces all down the block, and I felt the humid air grow still. The door opened and we were invited inside. I stepped over some faded rangoli and entered a darkened hallway.

I wanted to look around, take in the childhood home of the man I was in love with. I had pictured this place in my mind so often, and it was nothing like I had imagined. There were pictures in the showcase, and I wanted to see them desperately, but this was not the time to get up and explore. My fiance spoke in Kannada asking his mom to come out from the kitchen. His father sat at the table with perfect posture in his shirt and dhoti. He looked kind enough, but he was not smiling. I sat in a small but comfortable chair, and my fiance sat in an identical one. We were separated by an end table that held two old phones and a bronze Nataraja.

The mother came out with tea, and she would not meet my eyes. We all held our metal tumblers and sipped in silence. I was almost overcome with a desire to run right out the door, past the small but neatly kept garden and back out to the main road where I could surely find an auto.

Finally the father spoke, and the interrogation began. He asked about divorce in my family, and my education. He asked about my views on marriage, how I argue, my religion, my flexibility with change, my work history. He asked about my ability to cook and my views on non-veg food in the home. He never once moved from his position at the table except to cross and uncross his legs, and his expression never changed.

He asked about our plans for children, so my fiance and I spoke about how we planned to raise children while honoring both cultures. I explained that I was already from a multi-cultural background, and so while there were certainly things to take into consideration, it was not impossible. The mother remained silent, and looked out the window, the pallu of her sari folded neatly around her like a shield. She asked me nothing, and seemed to not even be paying attention. Then the father asked "How do you think this will work?"

"I am going to move here." I said resolutely. This was solution that clearly neither parent had considered. There was a very heavy pause. The mother seemed to hold her breath while the father breathed a long sigh, stood up and held out both hands with his palms turned upward.

"OK then!" he said, smiling. "You seem to have thought this through. Anything you need, you let us know. We will help to pay for the wedding if you require it." The mother's eyes darted at him in disbelief. I could tell that she had not counted on this turn of events. And now it was done, he had given his blessings. It could not be undone. He said namaskara, and excused himself. It was time for pooja. There was nothing more to discuss.

The mother walked us to the door. I thanked her for her hospitality, and told her I would see her soon. She said something to her mystified son as I walked into the garden, head spinning. I watched the people on the terraces lean back out to watch us go. The maid, who had been silently listening from the back of the house, ran off through the gate to go spread the amazing news.

It was done. I was getting married. I looked up at the hazy Bangalore sky and smirked a quick thank you at God.

Smallsquirrel is a born ranter. She is an Italian who moved to India by way of the US to be with her husband, a native Bangalorean. She loves bacon and rava masala dosa in equal measure, but certainly not in the same meal.
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#1
temporal
URL
February 12, 2009
03:56 PM

ss:

straight
unconvoluted
captured the kodak moments effectively

could sense the palpitations, nay hear it as i read

one query: why the shalwaar concession?

#2
PH
URL
February 12, 2009
04:22 PM

Enjoyed the little details - rangoli, sari as a shield, the neighbors leaning out - evocative post.

#3
Aditi N
February 12, 2009
04:40 PM

Beautiful and touching too! I felt like I was there.

#4
Vinod Joseph
February 13, 2009
12:54 AM

Wow! I could smell the anxiety in the air, all around. I think your mom-in-law was the most nervous of the lot.

#5
blokesablogin
February 13, 2009
02:05 AM

ss- it was very similar in my case too- only THEy came to visit ME (bride seeing) and "interrogated" and left! it is not about being from a different country- it is about being from a different family!LOL! In my case, it was an arranged marriage!

#6
Deepa Krishnan
URL
February 13, 2009
02:05 AM

Wow. The best thing I've read on desicritics in a while!

#7
Deepti Lamba
February 13, 2009
04:02 AM

Beautiful post SS. You have quite a tale to tell your little one:)

#8
Ritu
URL
February 13, 2009
04:33 AM

A splendid post SS. Extremely articulate and evocative. And I must admire your grit in the situation. Wish you all the best!

Cheers

#9
Vinod Joseph
February 13, 2009
05:04 AM

Now tell us the story of how you took a nice Kannadiga Brahmin to meet your folks! Did your Sicilian/Neapolitan uncles stand in the background with their sawn-off shotguns and bandoliers and demand that proof that his intentions were honourable?

#10
Vinod Joseph
February 13, 2009
05:12 AM

Now tell us the story of how you took a nice Kannadiga Brahmin to meet your folks! Did your Sicilian/Neapolitan uncles stand in the background with their sawn-off shotguns and bandoliers and demand that proof that his intentions were honourable?

#11
Anon
February 13, 2009
05:25 AM

I have a friend who would describe his marriage similarly. Neither set of parents resisted because they knew it could not be stopped, but they were very heart-broken, his father became ill and died very soon. I don't know how that feels. So, I am not sure if the same story that looks beautiful from one person's perspective at one particular time would look just as beautiful from another person's and at a different time. And nobody seems to be doing any intentional harm to others or themselves in such scenarios.

#12
Ayan Roy
February 13, 2009
06:10 AM

Heart-warming story and nice recounting of the past, Smallsquirrel.

I sincerely believe that if parents are broad-minded and open-hearted enough and truly want a child's happiness, then they don't let stupid issues like community, caste, religion and nationality come in the way of love and marriage. They also don't get "heart-broken" because they are big-hearted enough to accept a good human being as he/she is.

#13
smallsquirrel
February 13, 2009
07:00 AM

thanks all, for such nice comments. it was a difficult situation for all, moreso for his parents because this was really out of the scope of reality for them. I have to give them a lot of credit. They have learned a lot, and they treat me with an amazing amount of respect and they are very supportive to us.

temporal... oh, I love salwaar suits. I also felt I should meet them more than half way. I wore salwars and kurtas and jeans most of the time I was in India. Just more comfy that way. I still wear them here sometimes too!

vinod... I AM A ROMAN! LOL. and my parents and uncle are in Boston. But everyone in my family LOVES my husband. My family in the US and my family in Italy. We went to Italy on our honeymoon and they welcomed him with open arms.

ayan... I agree that in a perfect world it would work like this. sadly....

#14
Anon
February 13, 2009
07:32 AM

Ayan,

It is easy to talk about being "broad-minded" and "open-hearted"...but there are no rules about how parents SHOULD feel about their children. All parents love their children in their own way and just because a parent is disappointed and heart-broken about their child marrying out of the community does not make them backward or narrow-minded. Like SS said, depending on their own background, some things are way beyond their range of adaptability, and it cannot be held against them. We must either choose to accommodate their wishes or at least understand that it is fair enough for them to feel the way they do.

#15
Ayan Roy
February 13, 2009
07:57 AM

@Anon: "..at least understand that it is fair enough for them to feel the way they do."

Point taken! You can neither choose your parents nor change their mindsets, opinions and feelings drastically. Really sad, in some cases.

@SS: I agree that in a perfect world it would work like this. sadly....
Yup, in a perfect world people would be happy, free and accomodating, and would not be so emotionally attached to and blinded by their opinions, beliefs, customs, rituals and viewpoints.
I guess then we are all imperfect to a certain extent in some wy or the other. :-)

#16
smallsquirrel
February 13, 2009
08:09 AM

anon, yes I think it is important to understand what people are capable of and work from there. I understood that my future in-laws had not even contemplated this as a possibility, and the unknown is always scary. their notions of westerners needed some tweaking, and they had actually never had a conversation with an american before. they had no idea what to expect except what TV had shown them.

my husband was smart. he did not fight with them, he did not cause a scene. he listened to them, to their concerns, and we both addressed them as best we could. by the time of the wedding, the matriarch of the family had accepted me, and the rest was much easier. of course, by the time I got pregnant, no one even thought about it any more. I was simply another member of the family eating banana leaf lunches and living my life.

but anon, I think you also have to understand that some parents behave badly just for show. they want something that the neighbors will accept on face value, even if it is rotten underneath. I had a friend whose parents were content to marry her off to a rich bastard because it LOOKED good. Not all parents have their child's best interest at heart, sadly. And some are too fearful to ever accept anything but what they themselves had, and would rather disown a child than stretch themselves at all.

#17
annamma
February 13, 2009
09:40 AM

Did this really happen on valentine's day, ss? That's quite a coincidence. Cute!

#18
Anon
February 13, 2009
10:07 PM

"And some are too fearful to ever accept anything but what they themselves had, and would rather disown a child than stretch themselves at all."

Parents may have their own ideals. I think they have the right to have their own and live by them. Just because they have children and love them does not mean they have to seize to be individuals. If what a fully grown child thinks is his best interest conflicts with the best interests of the parents, there is nothing wrong in parents choosing to protect their own.

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